Seven Easy Hikes in The Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains, also often called the hiker’s paradise, offer an extensive range of hiking trails. Each trail has something to offer at the end, from large waterfalls bouncing off the rocks to rustic homesteads resting in the woods.

Ascending the trails amidst the lush greenery and chirping of the birds is an experience in itself. It helps you unwind and feel one with nature while indulging in some cardio at the same time.

But are all trails strenuous? Do first-time hikers have to be pack mules carrying all their camping gear up a mountain?

No, not at all!

The Great Smoky Mountains offer a variety of easy hikes as well, perfect for beginners and families with small children. So, if you don’t want to break a sweat on your vacation but still want to enjoy the pleasantness of The Smokys, here are some easy hikes in the area.

1. Cataract Falls Trail

Located less than 10 minutes from Gatlinburg’s main drag, this short route is perfect for families with young children.

The trailhead begins at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, and the path is well-marked and relatively flat. You’ll find a few minor ups and downs, but nothing too dramatic will take your breath away (literally).

At the trail’s end is an observation deck where you can take in the beauty of the falls and snap some pictures. So if this is your first hiking vacation, just rent some cheap cabins in the Smoky Mountains and make a day trip to the Cataract Falls trail.

2. Laurel Falls Trail

Laurel Falls is an excellent option if you’re looking for a great waterfall and a simple hike. The trail is about two and a half miles long and passes by an old-growth forest. You’ll also find a lot of wildflowers blooming by the trail in the springtime. The hike is shaded, so it’s a great choice on a hot day.

Laurel Falls is an 80-foot tall waterfall with snow-white water tumbling down a series of rocks. The trailhead to Laurel Falls is small, and the waterfall is extremely popular, so parking is also limited. Weekends and summer weekdays see the most foot traffic, but the area is lively year-round.

3. Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls

Rainbow Falls, and Grotto Falls, are only a mile apart and are also some of the most loved trails in The Smokys.

Rainbow Falls is an 80-foot waterfall with a rainbow often appearing in the mist at the bottom of the falls on sunny days. It is about a 5.4 miles round trip from the trailhead. If your intrepid crew is up for it, you can continue to the top of Mount LeConte for an additional 4.2 miles. It is the third-highest peak in The Smokys, and you will be rewarded with an incredible view.

Grotto Falls is a 25-foot cascade that you can walk behind. It is a shorter hike at only three miles round trip; therefore, you can do it in less time. Spring is a pleasant time to hike as the trail is lined with trilliums, wildflowers, and violets.

The trailhead for both hikes is the Trillium Gap Trail, located near Gatlinburg.

4. Abrams Falls Trail

One of the easy and enjoyable adventures of The Smokys is the Cades Cove loop. It’s a single-lane road lined with historic buildings and enthusiastic sightseers waiting to spot wildlife.

The Abrams Falls trailhead is situated on the loop road, and it’s an easy five-mile hike to the falls. The waterfall itself is 20 feet tall and flows into a large pool. The trail also takes you through an old-growth forest where you might observe white-tailed deer, black bears, or wild turkeys rummaging for food. The Abrams Falls trail is a great choice for families with small children as it’s not too strenuous.

The Cades Cove loop road doesn’t allow vehicles on Wednesdays and Saturdays until ten o’clock in the morning, so plan your hike accordingly.

5. Mingus Mill and Mingus Creek Trail

One of the best-preserved gristmills in The Smokys, Mingus Mill, is a great spot to learn about the area’s history. The mill is located just outside of Cherokee. 

The Mingus Creek Trail is a short, easy hike that starts at the mill and follows Mingus Creek for about a mile. The trail is shaded and has a few small creek crossings. You might see some wildflowers blooming in the springtime.

The trail ends at an old homestead site where you can see the foundations of the house and barn. You can stop by for a snack before returning to the mill.

6. Metcalf Bottom Trails

A laid-back picnic area about 9.5 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center, Metcalf Bottoms is perfect for stopping for a break from the hustle and bustle of Gatlinburg.

Two short trails start at the picnic area, and both are easy hikes. The first trail leads to an old cemetery where you can learn about some of the early settlers of The Smokys. The second trail takes you to the remains of an old home site.

The Metcalf Bottom trails are a great way to experience a little bit of history without hiking for miles. And the picnic area is perfect for enjoying a peaceful lunch in The Smokys.

7. Elkmont Natural Trail

Finding an easy and interesting hike is a must when traveling with kids. The Elkmont Natural Trail is an excellent option as it’s only half a mile long and has a lot of different things to see.

The trail starts at the Elkmont Campground and follows an old roadbed through the woods. Along the way, you’ll see an old stone chimney, the remains of a cabin, and a small waterfall.

The Elkmont Natural Trail is a great way to introduce your kids to hiking; they’ll love exploring all the different sights along the way.

Conclusion

Hiking is the top activity in The Smokys, and plenty of easy trails are perfect for families with small children. You’ll experience something new every time, whether it’s lone deer in the woods or a beautiful wildflower blooming by the side of the trail. So, get out there and explore all The Smokys have to offer! 

Scott is the editor-in-chief of Spice Market New York. He is also an author and publisher of his own craft.